I've learned a lot & thought I'd share

  • Derek Newell

This I Believe

Updated: Nov 2, 2019

My professional mission in life is a mouthful: to create and lead companies that solve significant problems of the world to which people want to belong and in which they can thrive.

That mouthful of a mission is result of a long and circuitous path to becoming an executive. In many ways, being an executive doesn't fit my DNA at all and in other ways, it is the only path for me, but that is a story for another post.

Many of the elements of "This I Believe" were forged in the experience of living in Apartheid South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It was written in the early 2000's after another experience that deeply affected how I think about business. It was my first "real" job out of graduate school. I loved the company I worked for and, while I was wholly under qualified for the initial role I was given, over the next 5 years, I became instrumental in building that company from 30 people to over 1000 people.

During most of my time there, it was incredibly hard and fun. Then it just became just hard, and then it became hard and miserable. I learned how toxic people can kill a culture and how hard it is to maintain a healthy culture. I also learned about company ownership the hard way. When we sold the company, I found out that I held much less equity than my peers that had been there much less time and (in my estimation) had done less to build the company than me. I felt really angry and taken advantage of.

Out of the frustration I wrote this professional mission to guide me. It feels especially relevant today and that is why I have chosen to publish it now. I struggle every day to hold myself accountable to these standards and often fail, but they are my benchmark.

I hope you enjoy it.

This I Believe:

I believe all human beings should be treated with dignity and respect.

I believe every human being is intrinsically worthy of being treated with dignity and respect by every other human being. I do not believe there are any exceptions to this rule. I believe people should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, intelligence, ability, behavior, education level, political persuasion, credentialing or any other aspect of their personal character that anyone would wish to use as a justification for not treating them with dignity and respect.

I believe when someone is not able to do the work assigned them, treating them with dignity and respect means informing them they have been unable to meet expectations and either: 1) training them to do the job in a way that is acceptable; 2) finding other work for them they are capable of doing; or 3) removing them from their job in a way that is dignified. I believe not doing this when someone is not performing well is disrespectful to all the other members of the team. I believe finding the right balance between the individual and the group is painfully difficult.

I believe when someone is behaving in a way that is challenging another person’s ability to treat them with dignity and respect because it conflicts with their personal values, they have an obligation to: 1) inform them of how their behavior is affecting them; 2) if they agree, work with them to help them modify their behavior; 3) if they do not agree to modify their behavior, to make a personal decision as to whether to continue to work with this person; or 4) if their behavior is harming others, to do whatever is within their power to change the situation and prevent further harm.

I believe every person has a personal responsibility to treat every other person with dignity and respect. I believe how a person has been treated in the past by others is not an excuse to break this rule. I believe every person has a responsibility to overcome their past and move forward to a place where they can treat people with dignity and respect.

I believe it is the job of every leader to closely monitor how people are being treated within his or her sphere of influence and to ensure this rule is being followed. I believe when a leader sees evidence this rule is not being followed, it is their obligation to take swift and decisive action to ensure no harm is done.

I believe strong, trusting relationships among the executive team are required for success.

I believe the foundation to the success of any company is the relationships among its executive team members. I believe that if the executive team members do not understand each other, trust each other and care about each other, then the likelihood of long-term success is greatly diminished. I believe that if these types of relationships do not exist among the executive team, it creates very large divisions among people working for the executives and wastes the organization’s resources.

I believe the foundation to establishing the types of relationships among the executives is based on the principle: all human beings should be treated with dignity and respect. I believe if this is not a foundation of the executive routine, the types of relationships that need to be formed for lasting success can not be formed.

I believe these relationships are more important than the strategy or the operating plan of a company. I believe a company with a great strategy and operating plan and bad relationships among its executives will get beaten by a company with a good strategy and operating plan and great relationships among its executive over the long-term, every single time.

I believe creating these types of relationships is the most important role of the executive team. I believe the CEO is ultimately responsible for ensuring that these relationships form, selecting the team and creating an environment where they can occur.

I believe creating these types of relationships is very difficult. I believe every person is capable of forming these types of relationships. However, I believe not every person is able to form these types of relationships with every other person. Therefore, I believe the selection and composition of the executive team is paramount. I believe selection into the executive team needs to be based on large part as to whether the individual will be able to form the types of relationships required with the existing members of the executive team that already have these relationships in place.

I believe once created, these types of relationships are fulfilling and rewarding, but hard at times. I believe they require honesty, conflict and an action orientation. I believe that in today’s corporate environment disagreements must be vetted quickly, conflict must occur and be brought to resolution and then coordinated action must be taken by the executive team. I believe that conflict disguised as prolonged discussion and indecision is deadly to a company.

I believe each individual is entitled to fair compensation based on the value they create.

I believe this is a corollary of the value of treating people with dignity and respect. I believe in a market-based society, one of the easiest ways to treat a person with dignity and respect is to allow them to adequately participate in the fruits of their labor.

I believe in merit based pay for value created. I believe each person’s pay should be set according to the value they create for their organization. I believe “market” prices do not set appropriate compensation levels or create adequate ownership incentives for employees. I believe market prices over compensate under performers; under compensate the majority of workers focused on day-to-day value creation activities; create incentives for CEOs to make choices that make capitalism a destructive force in society; and dramatically under compensate non-CEO employees that demonstrate an ability to create extraordinary value.

I believe that capitalism can be a destructive or creative force in society and it is up to each leader to make it a creative force in society.

I believe capitalism can be an incredibly destructive force in society. I believe it has the power for incredible evil. I have witnessed first hand the destructive power of capitalism in the mines of South Africa, the Chinese clothing factories in Lesotho, and the farms of the Orange Free State where people are treated like and work as slaves because those are the wages and conditions demanded by “market” forces in that environment. I have also seen it in the start-ups of Silicon Valley where, especially younger and/or lower level, employees create immense value for shareholders but only receive a pitifully small share of the value they create.

I believe a few people getting rich off the value others create and convincing themselves they deserve it, is morally wrong and destroys the foundation of a fair, stable and equitable society. I believe this mentality is widespread today. I believe the current “free” capital markets operating in this and other countries throughout the world are, in fact, not free and serve to make and keep a very few people unnecessarily wealthy and keep the vast majority of people at or below a subsistence level existence.

I believe there is NOT equal opportunity in this or any other country in the world. I believe there are very powerful socioeconomic forces at work that maintain the status quo. I believe (in the US at least) unless you are a white, male, Judeo-Christian, heterosexual, blessed with above average intelligence and emotional fortitude, your chances of breaking out of poverty are dramatically less than if you have these characteristics. I believe it is our job to fight these institutional biases by mentoring, coaching and developing all competent and capable people. I believe people in power love to hold up the successful anecdote to distract from the statistical truth.

I also believe capitalism is one of the most powerful forces for good in the world. I believe using capitalism as a vehicle for each individual expressing their unique talents in this world creates value for themselves and others in a way that makes everyone’s life better. I believe capitalism is unmatched in its ability to create value and bring forth good things in the world.

I believe whether a capitalistic endeavor is a creative or destructive force in the world is entirely dependent on the choices the person or people leading it make. I believe there is no more important or difficult role in our society. I believe there is a dearth of people that can and will lead in a way that will make capitalistic endeavors a positive force in the world. I believe it is my mission in life to be a leader that makes capitalism a positive force in the world and joins forces with other like-minded leaders to change the status quo.

I believe it is every capitalistic endeavor’s responsibility to serve its customers, employees, the community and its shareholders, in that order. I believe in any capitalistic endeavor that is going to be a positive force in the world, the employees must own a substantial portion of the company. I believe such an endeavor should return a portion of its profits to its customers (through great service, R&D and lower prices), employees (through profit sharing and ownership), the community (through being a good corporate citizen, especially paying its share of taxes) and shareholders (through dividends) with every financial cycle.

This is what I believe.

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